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ing imitation, which in reality is nothing more than the tone of the age in which they live; and though more emphatically noted in the most popular poet, than in his less fortunate contemporaries, he also was influenced by, instead of creating. Thus it may be no paradox to say, that a new poet has of late incurred condemna
tion on two grounds, both of which he must have en+ joyed a peculiar felicity to escape-one for being unlike
Lord Byron, the other for being like him. Perhaps, without carrying the inquiry farther, we have already been enabled to see that there has been reason to believe the times of late somewhat singularly unfavourable to poetry; and that you, my dear Publishers, have been fully justified, by theory as well as experience, for the very cold water you have thrown upon all proffered speculations in a branch of business so unprofitable.
Yet, on the other hand, is it wholly true that no poetry, whatever be its nature, will succeed? And, on the contrary, may we not hope that the disadvantages we have glanced at, and with which poetry has had to encounter, may have an apter reference to the period we have lately passed, than exactly to the present? It is perfectly clear, that at some time or another the indifference towards poetry occasioned by the death or the absorbing genius of one great poet must subside into that customary and natural coldness with which the public will always regard excursions into the higher and more arduous paths of literature. Why should this time be yet an object of distant anticipation? Has not a sufficient period elapsed since the passing away of a great man, to allow the feelings he bequeathed to fade also from that undue influence which they might at first have exercised over the popular mind ? Has not a new generation arisen? Has not a new impetus been given to the age? Do not new feelings require to be expressed? and are there not new readers to be propitiated, who, sharing but in a feeble
degree the former enthusiasm, will turn, nor with languid attention, to the claims of fresh aspirants ? Is there not truth in this ? and if so, is not the time approaching, if it be not already arrived, when a poet may expect no obstacle and no contention beyond those eternally doomed to his condition? But then what have we said—“that a new race have arisen and new feelings are to be expressed.” A poet, therefore, who aspires to reputation must be adapted to the coming age, not footed to that which is already gliding away.
The critics err when they say that any poetry that is very good will succeed; poetry, excellent—nay, surprising-is called forth every hour,—yet dies instantly into silence. But then it is poetry which echoes a sound of which we are tired ;—to succeed with a new age, it should be of a new character. Hence it is, my dear Publishers, that duodecimos in stanzas, and octavos in heroics, slumber on your shelves—a warning to you, an omen to us. Hence it is, that so much genius seems utterly thrown away; that so many excellent verses are written which no one reads; and so many pretty feel. ings are expressed, with which no one can sympathize. We all grant the talent and the power; but they are wasted in delineating worn-out sentiments and imbodying reflections upon which, in the rapid career of the world, we have already decided. All that morbidity of feeling—all that gloomy repining at the ends of life
-all that affectation to be above the aims and detached from the interests of our fellow-creatures; all such unwholesome sentimentalities and tumid weaknesses, characteristic of a departing age, do not distinguish the rising. Many among the elder part of the literary world may indeed still consider them the components of a deep philosophy, or the signs of a superior mind. But the young have, I am persuaded, formed a nobler estimate of life, and a habit of reasoning, at once founded upon a homelier sense, and yet aspiring to more elevated conclusions.
What feelings may have succeeded the artificial sentiments that have withered, and which poets daily rise to address, and sink into oblivion for addressing in vain,or what reception the world may give to the poet who is the first to enter deeply into those feelings, and express them first-remains for men more gifted and more zealous than myself to discover.
The poem which forms the staple of this volume addresses itself to the humours rather than to the passions of men. Chiefly of a comic and of a lightly satiric nature, it makes little pretence to those provinces to which the ambition of poets is usually directed And, for my own part, even if I possessed far higher endowments for poetry–far warmer inclinations towards it than I ever, in my youngest days of inexperience, imagined I possessed-I own my belief that I have lived too immediately in that day with the style of which the world has grown weary, not to be imbued in the graver school of poetry with the very faults which I should censure in others : and imbued too deeply, and from too early a period, to allow much hope of exchanging those faults for faults of a more innovating and unhackneyed character. In the comic school it is different; for the comic school has been little cultivated in this country; and originality in that department is therefore easier than in one more severe, and yet seemingly more inviting to disciples. If I have now accomplished something which, though a tale and a satire, is yet not evidently plagiarized either from Byron or from Butler - if without that wearisome straining for novelty in detail, which so rarely leads to any thing better than affectation—the matter and the manner be not, on the whole, without some claim to originality—then shall I be fully satisfied. That you, my dear Publishers, may be fully satisfied also is a matter equally desirable, but a little more difficult to effect!
The above observations were written some months ago; since then the aspect of the times has grown more visibly dark and troubled ; and the public, occupied with events of stirring moment, have now some solid reason to be less than ever disposed towards “ the recreations of the pleasant loiterer, Poesy." Were this poem of more value, and of a different nature, I should delay its appearance to a less unpropitious moment. I feel, indeed, a little ashamed to produce, at such times, any thing not more intimately connected with the great causes which now in the exaggeration of no metaphor) agitate the world. But the crop has been sown, and has ripened, and may stand no longer: in other words, so much of any little attraction my poem may possess depends upon the aptness of its allusions to the present day, that in the present day it must seek its fortune. If it have other merit, indeed, the temporary neglect for which I am prepared cannot become a permanent oblivion. Without referring to posterity—that last and most perilous appeal of the neglected-a court to which, at this moment, I have not the temerity or the vanity to subject so unimportant a cause—there is yet a lesser and an intermediate tribunal. No man's real reputation, small or great, is made by his exact contemporaries: it is the generation succeeding, yet witnessing his own—the generation some eight or ten years his junior -by which he is tried. To that generation—not in the spirit of dejection or of boasting—but as the first fair and dispassionate tribunal I can obtain, I confide the fate of this work, and of those which, in humbler prose, have been, from the first to the latest, actuated by the same objects—objects that may keep alive in me, indeed, the love of Fame; but which yet can console me, if. I am forbidden to attain it.
January 16, 1831.